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A&E: 'School' most likely to succeed

July 2, 2007

If there's anyone in your household under 16, you've no doubt heard about the phenomenon that is "High School Musical." The little Disney-Channelmovie-that-could has aired in what seems like a permanent loop on TV, spawned the best-selling album of 2006 (blowing past the likes of "Nickelback" and Justin Timberlake), and launched concerts for its cast, a touring stage version, and even an ice-show version. So far, Indy has been spared the skates.

In a canny business move, Disney tossed out the conventional wisdom of waiting until the tour money was tapped to license the rights, opening the floodgates to local productions. The result: "High School Musical" is everywhere.

Including, through July 15, in a solid, energetic production, at the American Cabaret Theatre.

In it jock boy meets brainy girl, but what they both really want is a part in the school show. The obstacle: a cliquefocused world that conspires to keep them in their places.

While it plays in the same arena as "Grease"-a show just as artlessly commercial, only with a Broadway pedigree-its message is the polar opposite. In "Grease," happiness comes from changing yourself to suit the popular idiots. "HSM"- like every third song on Radio Disney-is relentlessly about being true to yourself.

Subtle, it ain't. Compare the bench scene here-where smitten Troy and Gabriella talk about their feelings-to the bench scene in the musical masterpiece "Carousel"- where the smitten Billy and Julie aren't able to articulate how they feel. The first is informative, while the second is heartbreakingly moving. Nobody expects "HSM" to be "Carousel," but it isn't too much to ask for some emotional tug.

Director Bob Harbin has done what needs to be done with the material. He's gathered a talented cast of young singer/dancers and channeled their energy into delivering crowd-pleasing musical numbers. Much forgiveness is gained for rote writing when, for example, the jocks pull off a terrific, basketball-bouncing dance to "Get'Cha Head in the Game."

The hope, of course, is that "HSM" opens the door to more teen and pre-teen theatergoing. And that it leads to long lines at high school musical auditions. Jessica Murphy, Paeton Chavis, Allan Washington and other appealing performers deserve roles in shows that really test their talents.

In the meantime, taking the kids in your life to see this production should render you relatively cool. For a grown-up.

There's usually at least one song that you're hoping to hear when you pick up a concert ticket.

In the case of Texas singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen, it could be the great onthe-lam tune "The Road Goes On Forever" or the wonderfully inebriated "Merry Christmas from the Family." But I set my hopes on "Think It Over One Time," a slightly distanced, slightly dispassionate song in which the unapologetic singer encourages, but never begs, his love to reconsider her angry departure. And he does it with a quintessentially Keen mix of the direct ("We've made a mess of things/It makes no difference now/Let's chalk it all up to the blues") and the homespun poetic ("Love don't walk away/Only people do").

In his June 20 performance at the Music Mill, Keen opened with the song of my choice. The rest was gravy. Delicious gravy.

Sam Easterson's thing is to strap cameras onto the backs of beasts and project the results. As evidence by his show, "Nature Holds My Camera" at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, there's curiosity, insight and humor in seeing the world from an animal's point of view. But if the animal isn't consciously involved in the creative process-and the creator is at the mercy of an animal's whim-where's the artistic intent?

I'm sure that an argument can be made as to why this is at the IMA and not at a natural history museum or zoo. It's just that the argument isn't being made in the show itself-which makes it a fun curiosity but not much more.
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